Henderson County, Kentucky History


Henderson man last one to die in Kentucky's electric chair

At times, Kelly MOSS seemed the very incarnation of trouble. The Henderson County native apparently spent much of his life drifting in and out of jail - a breach-of-peace charge here, an assault conviction there - and had compiled an imposing criminal record before murder led to his death in the electric chair at age 47.

MOSS was arrested at least 10 times between 1950 and 1953 and, by the time Henderson Circuit Judge Faust Y. SIMPSON ordered him to leave the county in January 1954, his reputation as a persistent felon was well-documented.

According to The Gleaner and Journal, MOSS had been away from Henderson County for about three years when he was arrested in Webster County on a robbery charge and sent to the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville.

The day after his release on September 22, 1957, MOSS and his wife, Dorothy Osborne MOSS, were lodged in the Henderson County jail on charges of drunkenness.

Finally, in early November 1957, the badly beaten body of MOSS' 74-year-old stepfather was found in the kitchen of his home on Cumnock Street.

MOSS was convicted of the slaying in May 1958 and was sentenced to die in the electric chair on January 6, 1961.

But for all the energy MOSS seemingly had expended to seek his own destruction, the convicted murderer now unleashed a flurry of legal maneuvers - many without the help of an attorney - in an effort to prevent his own death.

MOSS managed to delay the execution for slightly more than a year. In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court would refuse three times to hear the case. The Kentucky Court of Appeals also denied three last-minute petitions to postpone the execution.

No Kentuckian has been executed since March 2, 1962, the day MOSS was put to death at the Eddyville prison.

"The restless spirit of Kelly MOSS was stilled just after midnight this morning … when the state carried out his execution for the 1967 slaying of his step-father, 74-year-old Charles ABBITT, in a small frame house on Cumnock Street," the newspaper reported.

"MOSS … held onto his hope for a stay of execution until the last but it did not come. MOSS has fought his legal battles for four years, recently without an attorney. Not an educated man, he was credited with having a good mind and he prepared many of his writs himself. He was also credited with preparing writs for fellow prisoners when in custody on earlier occasions for less serious offences."

At one point, MOSS filed a $10,000 civil suit against the state and various officials, claiming he was injured when guards at Eddyville threw tear gas into his cell. The lawsuit was accompanied by a petition requesting the court to stay the execution.

MOSS "contended the action of the guards amounted to an attempted execution by gas and that the impending execution would place him in double jeopardy," the newspaper said. "His suit was thrown out of a lower court and the Court of Appeals has ruled against his double jeopardy contention."

The day before MOSS' execution, the newspaper published a letter - parts of which are written in a helpless and bitter tone - addressed to Editor Francele ARMSTRONG from Kelly MOSS' mother, Edna Moss ABBITT.

It read, in part:

"After reading a serious of southwestern reporter (legal journals) in the case of the Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. Kelly MOSS, I find that there are many untrue statements contained therein. I find that the evidence contained in Kelly's case is far-fetched in many ways.

"And you, being the editor, I suppose you are someone else who has published (this information) in the Gleaner and Journal newspaper over and over again.

"And every article that you put in the Gleaner and Journal was … about my son Kelly MOSS (whom) you certainly do not know anything about, only just what you have been told and just what you have heard.

"Why should you be so worried about Charlie ABBITT? He was nothing to you.

"I married Charlie ABBITT and I was his fifth wife. ABBITT had two divorced wives and (two) wives dead. I was not good acquainted with Charlie ABBITT. I had only known ABBITT a short time and ABBITT had told me after our marriage that he could not get along with his other wives' folks.

"Kelly MOSS takes the criticism, puts it in the hands of God and leaves it there. There is always a way to handle the critics. They have threatened Kelly MOSS' life a long time, but the angels are more in number than the forces working against us. God in heaven can set a date any time for any body.

"Charlie ABBITT didn't like the Henderson people, so he said."

Prior to MOSS' execution, the most recent death sentence carried out in Kentucky was on November 30, 1956. On that morning, three men died in Eddyville's electric chair.

Reprinted with permission.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Henderson, KY, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Sharon Wright

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS